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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Hays touts double duty of Citizens bill: Protect the environment and fix the program



Environmental and tea party groups stood behind Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, on Friday to promote a Citizens Property Insurance reform bill that would prohibit the state-run insurer from writing policies for new construction or renovations along Florida's storm-vulnerable coasts. Backers say the provision does two things: Protects environmentally sensitive land from development by making it difficult to get property insurance and reduces financial risk to the tax-payer backed insurer.

"This is a place where conservation and good economic sense come together," said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Hays' bill also would allow Citizens to increase its rates up to 25 percent a year, loosening the current 10 percent annual cap on premium increases. It also would prohibit Citizens from covering homes in non-high-risk areas with a replacement value greater than $500,000, and tighten eligibility requirements so people could only enter the program if the only policies they can find cost 25 percent more than Citizens.

Citizens officials have been warning its premiums aren't high enough to cover losses incurred if a 1-in-100-year storm hits the state. Meanwhile, as private insurers left the state in the wake of the busy 2004 and 2005 storm seasons, the number of Citizens policies has swelled from 820,000 in 2003 to nearly 1.3 million.

Hays said his ultimate goal is to shrink Citizens down to nothing. "The state of Florida has no business being in the property insurance business, period," he said.

While his proposal would help the agency become more solvent and limit new policies, it doesn't shrink it much. According to a spokeswoman for Citizens, only about 4,957 policy holders would be affected by the ban on some homes worth more than $500,000.

[Last modified: Friday, March 11, 2011 3:09pm]


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